You could say that this blog entry started with a guilty conscience.
Two weeks ago, my partner Maguy Le Coze and I were honored at a tribute dinner at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami. We got up on stage to say a few words of thanks to the crowd, and I thanked my wife and family and my team at Le Bernardin for helping to make everything possible. But even though she was standing right beside me, I forgot to thank Maguy for being such an amazing business partner and an unfailingly great friend.
This gaffe got me thinking about those chefs who greatly influenced my culinary career. I often speak of the impact that Joël Robuchon and Jean-Louis Palladin had upon my development as a chef. But I have not spoken as often about Gilbert Le Coze, what I learned from him, and how important he was to me. And even more rarely have I spoken about my partnership and friendship with Maguy Le Coze. With that in mind, I thought I would use a few lines here to describe them to you.
Gilbert taught himself how to cook. He had a rare love for seafood, and he was a very creative talent. When I began to work at Le Bernardin, I thought that I was pretty complete in my training in cooking seafood, having worked for Robuchon and Palladin. Gilbert, however, taught me many new techniques, and shared with me his philosophy about seafood. Just after he hired me, and before I actually started the job, Gilbert and I took a trip to Spain. Of course we had fun, but more importantly, we forged a strong connection and began to develop a friendship. In my role as chef de cuisine at Le Bernardin, Gilbert always supported me, even when I made a mistake or a wrong decision. He made a point not to blame me or yell in front of the staff; rather, he would take me aside to talk about the situation in a more subtle way. He was never condescending. He had a very charismatic and strong personality, and he was a visionary. Of course, he was already a very successful chef when I met him, but in my presence, he was humble. It was clear to me that he was very loyal to his roots, and to the friendships he'd developed throughout his life. When he gave you his word, he meant it. Maguy is the same way.
When Gilbert passed away in 1994, Maguy was forced to assume leadership of the company. Despite the pain of losing her brother, she successfully guided the restaurant into a new phase. She had trusted Gilbert when he told her that I was a good chef, and she gave me total freedom in the kitchen, which really represented a risk, as I was only 28 years old at the time. She never wavered in her support of me. Eventually, she began to give me partnership in the restaurant, progressively, until we became equal partners.
Today, Maguy and I have a very strong bond. We trust each other completely, and we have a strict rule: If one of us doesn’t like what the other has proposed to do, or has a doubt about a decision that we are about to make, the person proposing the action makes their case. If there are still misgivings, we just don't do it. It's sort of a two-person veto system.
I could go on and on complimenting Maguy and the memory of Gilbert, but I'll just conclude by saying that the way I feel today is that we are family.
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